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New Left Review I/133, May-June 1982

Charles Post

The American Road to Capitalism

This essay is an attempt to examine the theoretical and historiographic debates on the development of capitalism in the United States between 1790 and 1877. The realization of the necessary conditions for capitalist production in the United States took place through the articulation, expanded reproduction and transformation of three forms of production, and through a process of political class struggle that culminated in the Civil War. Each of these forms of production—slavery, petty-commodity production and capitalist manufacture—has been the subject of theoretical and historiographic controversy. These debates will be reviewed in order to determine the place of each productive form in the development of us capitalism. The Civil War’s place in the history of us capitalist development has also been the subject of well-known controversy; these discussions will be scrutinized to determine how the class struggle that culminated in the War affected capitalist development in the United States.

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